Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

We all know the Christmas story, although there are a number of elements that we commonly associate with it that we probably shouldn’t. Some of these include:

Jesus was born on December 25. Actually, nowhere in the Bible are we given the date of Jesus’ birth, and shepherds would not likely have been in the fields in late December. The truth is we can’t even be certain of the year.

The manger scene as we normally picture it is almost certainly not accurate. There were no “inns” as we know the term today. Actually the word commonly translated as “inn” is only used two other times in the New Testament in Mark 14:14 and its parallel passage, Luke 22:11. There it refers to the room where Jesus and His disciples had the Last Supper. Jesus may even have been born in a house that took Joseph and Mary in. In the ancient world animals were often kept within the house, sometimes on the first floor while the family slept on a second floor. So, if there was no room on the second floor, Joseph and Mary may have been placed with the animals on the first floor. The point is that the cute little manger scene probably does not reflect what really happened.

The wise men were not there. Luke says nothing about wise men; that account is found in Matthew. The Magi as the Greek refers to them (we get the word “magic” from the name) were probably astrologers. That’s why the star meant something to them. And the wise men find Joseph, Mary, and Jesus living in a house in Bethlehem. Matthew says nothing about them coming from Nazareth.

The visit of the wise men may have been when Jesus was two years old. Matthew has Herod killing all male children two years and under. In the tiny village of Bethlehem Herod would have killed at most a dozen children, not enough to merit a place in history. Herod was known for doing much worse.

I am not attempting to discourage our traditions. Traditions can be powerful expressions of faith and meaning. I just thought it might be interesting to consider some of the questions that can be applied to what we have come to call “the Christmas story.”

We also tend to picture Christmas in one of two ways. We may remember Christmas from our childhood—for some of us quite long ago. The other picture has been implanted in our minds by Charles Dickens. Because of his famous story, A Christmas Carol, our minds almost unconsciously bring up images of Victorian England.

Nothing is wrong with either of these images; I tend to use them as well. At the same time, we should recognize that Christmas is not exclusively American or European. The message of Christmas is for all people in all ages. Below is a page from the Codex Vaticanus, showing what we have come to label as Luke 2:4—29. This early manuscript of course has neither chapters nor verses. It dates to approximately AD 325. Actually, the earliest manuscript that contains this story is p45 and it dates from about AD 225, a hundred years earlier than the Vaticanus.

Luke 2 Vaticanus

I would suggest that as we  look at the page from the Vaticanus, we pause to remember two things. First of all, the Christmas story is not a Victorian invention. As much as we may have buried its message in commercialism, it is still a part of the Christian message that goes back to the time Luke was originally written.

Also, Christmas is not an invention of Western culture. While it is meaningful to us, it is just as much for all people in all times. The story of Christmas is after all a message of hope and redemption, and all of us need that in some way.

While the King James Version may not be the best translation of the Greek text, its message has resonated for centuries, and it still speaks to us today. I leave you with it, just as it was spelled in the 1611 version.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good wil towards men.

And don’t forget to listen to this version of the Christmas story.


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Some of you will receive this message twice, because I am posting it on both of my blogs. Last year at this time I posted a link to a video, and I am repeating that again. It may become a tradition.

The two blogs I have perhaps reveal something of my dual personality, which I suspect some of you have difficulty figuring out. On the one hand, I have a strong analytical, even intellectual side, and that is seen in my blog that deals with the history of the Bible. At the same time, I feel a need to develop and share faith and inspiration in a world that needs it so desperately. That led to my trying to keep up with a second blog. Today’s message is somewhat different, and I wanted to share it more widely.

We need to engage God with our minds, because only if we understand what is true, can our faith be genuine. At the same time, intellectual facts can never satisfy our soul’s hunger for more. After we have sifted all the facts, separated myth from history, and understood all that science and study can teach us, there must be a place for the supernatural, that which cannot be explained, but which our faith tells us is real.

Last night at our church’s candlelight service, we sang so many of the traditional Christmas carols that I grew up with. As difficult as it was for me to do, I let my intellectual side go, and almost immediately I felt the reality of the supernatural. I felt the presence of a transcendent God who was as real as the chair in which I was sitting.

At some point, we must put aside the books that keep us at arm’s length from the supernatural presence of God. I am convinced that is the heart of the Christmas message. God becomes a part of struggling humanity, so that He can then draw us into His divine nature. That is the real meaning of the Christmas story. Other things are important, but occasionally we all need to step back, acknowledge that reality, and let God into our everyday lives.

I let Linus say it last year, and I am allowing him to do it again this year. I wish you a merry Christmas, a holy Christmas, and a transcendent Christmas. May God bless each one who reads this.

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No one ever said the Bible is always easy to understand, and the subject of the Christmas story is no exception. The history, meaning, and significance of the birth of Jesus have been debated over the centuries by theologians, poets, even scientists. Here is a short video which explains it as well as anything I have heard or read. I know most of you have probably seen it before, but as someone observed, we need to be reminded more than we need to be taught. To everyone who takes the 1 minute and 21 seconds to view this video, may you have a blessed Christmas and a New Year filled with a recognition of the abiding presence of God in your life.

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Daniel B. Wallace

Executive Director of CSNTM & Senior Research Professor of NT Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary

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